As Giles Corey lay dying under the weight of heavy stones, pressing against his chest, he was asked repeatedly to confess. He was promised mercy and forgiveness. All he had to do was admit that he was a wizard, and the pain would stop. As his body convulsed and contorted under the weight of the tones, he kept repeating the same demands, which would also be the last words he would ever utter: “More weight! More weight!”
As an 80-year old farmer, uneducated, but successful and content in 17th century Salem Village, Giles Corey and his wife Martha lived a pretty uneventful life. However, that all changed when Martha questioned the accusations of the young, pubescent girls who were going around accusing people in the village of witchcraft.
The girls responded to this outrage by accusing Mrs. Corey of being a witch, because teenagers. In court the girls alleged Martha of having a yellow bird sucking her fingers, and claimed Martha was biting them and scratching them during the trial. Martha Corey was subsequently sent to jail. Her husband however, didn’t keep quiet. He knew the risks, knew these girls had the entire village believing their terrible lies, but he went before the magistrate nonetheless to defend his wife’s innocence against the false charges. Remember, these were elderly people. Imagine the cojones they must have had to stand up to these disgusting twits.
So, the girls responded by accusing Giles of being a wizard. SMH. I still find it hard to believe that this actually happened. (To get a feel for the darkness of the time period, you can visit the The Witch House in Salem, MA. It's the only structure still perfectly intact from the days of the Salem Witch Trials.)
The girls claimed Giles asked Ann Putnam to write in the Devil’s book, whatever the hell that was. It didn’t matter that the girls were making shit up, the highly conservative and orthodox peoples of Salem Village were so easily swayed by fear, so the girls totally took the concept of fear mongering to a whole other level. Unfortunately we still deal with plenty of these same issues. Just turn on the news and you can see how fear mongering is still obviously alive and well, and still an incredibly powerful weapon to wield against those who are afraid and undereducated.
The Coreys suffered for five months in prison, awaiting their trial.
Ultimately, a dozen witnesses came forward to accuse Giles of being a high wizard, who presided over black masses. Though he was pretty certain he would be convicted and executed, Giles refused to stand trial. The reason? If he stood trial and was convicted he would lose his farm and his sons-in-law would have no claim to his property, which would become the property of the state.
The penalty in 1692 Salem Village for refusing to stand trial: Death by pressing under heavy stones. Pretty freaking horrible.
In Massachusetts, this method of punishment was never used before, nor would it be used after.
On Monday, September 19, Corey was stripped naked, a board placed upon his chest, and then--while his neighbors watched--heavy stones and rocks were piled on the board. Corey pleaded to have more weight added, so that his death might come quickly. Samuel Sewall reported Corey's death: "About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was press'd to death for standing mute." Robert Calef, in his report of the event, added a gruesome detail: Giles's "tongue being prest out of his mouth, the Sheriff with his cane forced it in again, when he was dying." Judge Jonathan Corwin ordered Corey buried in an unmarked grave on Gallows Hill. - University of Missouri, Kansas
There’s an anonymous poem, that dates to the 18th century that pretty much sums up the sentiment regarding Corey’s ill-fated part of the Salem witch hysteria of 1692:
Giles Corey was a wizard strong, a stubborn wretch was he;
And fit was he to hang on high upon the locust tree.
So, when before the Magistrates for trial he did come,
He would no true confession make, but was completely dumb.
"Giles Corey," said the Magistrate, "What hast thou here to plead
To those who now accuse thy sould of crime and horrid deed?"
Giles Corey he said not a word, no single word spoke he.
"Giles Corey," said the Magistrate, "We'll press it out of thee."
They got them then a heavy beam, then laid it on his breast;
They loaded it with heavy stones, and hard upon him pressed.
"More weight," now said this wretched man. "More weight!" again he cried;
And he did no confession make, but wickedly he died.
A rendering from the Old World, where pressing to death was also practiced during heretic hysterias:
Now considered a martyr, Corey’s very public death served an important role in shedding light on the injustices of the witch trials, and they ended shortly thereafter. Today you can pay respects at the Salem Witch Trials Memorials or take a tour on the Salem Witch Tour, and there's also the Salem Witch Museum.